Green purchasing entails buying
products that have the same quality and performance as their competing products, but generate less waste, involve fewer toxics in manufacturing, use less energy, have recycled content, or have other desired “green” qualities.
Motivations for purchasing green range from saving money, protecting worker health, helping to drive demand for more sustainable products, or simply “doing the right thing.”
Despite these reasons, challenges exist for starting or running a green purchasing program. Read on for a discussion of some of the most common challenges and some solutions used by Northwest agencies and businesses.
CHALLENGE: Is It Really Green?
Environmentally preferred products have a reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products that serve the same purpose. This comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance, or disposal of the product.
In many product categories purchasers have no shortage of choices but very little readily-available environmental information. Some products claim to be green or earth-friendly, but don’t include information to back up the manufacturer’s claim. So, how do you verify that the product is actually green?
SOLUTION: Look to the Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides”
The “Guides for Use of Environmental Marketing Claims” or “Green Guides” were established by the FTC to ensure that environmental claims are appropriately used in product marketing and advertising. For example, manufacturers must avoid overstating environmental attributes and claims. Although primarily a tool for manufacturers, familiarity with these Guides can help purchasers become savvy evaluators of environmental claims made by companies. The Guides can be accessed at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/grnrule/guides980427.htm.
SOLUTION: Rely on credible third-party sources.
A number of third party organizations provide a variety of services to assess the “greenness” of products. Among these, some develop environmental standards for specific product categories, some certify specific environmental claims while others offer more comprehensive eco-labeling or certification services.
A few examples include Green Seal, http://www.greenseal.org (consumer products); the Certified Forest Products Council, http://www.certifiedwood.org and Greenwood, http://www.greenwood.org (wood products); LEED green building rating system, http://www.usgbc.org/LEED/LEED_main.asp (new construction and building renovation projects), Science Certification Systems, http://www.scs1.com/environmental1.shtml (environmental certification of a range of products); Energy Star, http://www.energystar.gov (energy efficient products); and Green-E, http://www.green-e.org/ (electricity).
For a comprehensive listing of standards and information about organizations that have developed them, check out EPA’s Database of Environmental Information on Products and Services at http://yosemite1.epa.gov/oppt/eppstand2.nsf. You can search by product category or simply browse through the “shopping mall” of information.
In a regional example, the King Street Center, built using LEED principles, features a water reclamation system that saves 1.4 million gallons of water annually and has saved King County approximately $100,000 on energy costs since 1999. More details are available at http://dnr.metrokc.gov/dnrp/ksc_tour/.
SOLUTION: Go directly to the source.
Despite the wealth of information that third-party sources can provide, there are still information gaps to determine which product is truly environmentally preferable. Contacting vendors and manufacturers directly can help purchasers make informed decisions.
When the regional EPA office in Seattle needed to replace old photocopy machines, staff wanted best value: a model that was “greenest” and which met performance and price considerations. They spoke directly with vendors and manufacturers to develop an informational matrix, comparing the machines on a range of environmental criteria. Some of the environmental attributes considered were low dust and ozone emissions, product take back, reduced packaging, and third-party certification.
In an effort to simplify this process for green construction, ASTM International (a nonprofit organization that develops voluntary consensus standards for materials, products, systems, and services) released a questionnaire that facilitates the process of collecting information from vendors for green building products. The standard is a series of yes/no questions (with an option to elaborate) to be completed by manufacturers regarding the life cycle impact of their products. It is hoped that a standardized practice of information collection will benefit both design and manufacturing communities by providing consistent data for analysis.
When purchasers communicate directly with vendors and manufacturers, they can help influence development of greener products.
The State of Washington worked directly with computer manufacturer Dell to reduce and recycle the Styrofoam packaging that comes with the computers it buys. Similarly, the City of Seattle worked with computer manufacturer Gateway on these issues, and has worked to eliminate the advertising and large number of manuals included with each computer. With a large contract and an ongoing relationship, manufacturers can be quite receptive to customer requests.
Working directly with manufacturers promotes the greening of the supply chain, which is a key component to the larger issue of sustainability. For more information about greening the supply chain, including techniques, case studies, who is doing it, and more links on the topic, check out PPRC’s online resource at visit http://www.pprc.org/pubs/topics/grnchain.
CHALLENGE: Environmentally Preferable Products Cost More
Although this isn’t always the case, often green products do cost more, at least when simply comparing initial purchase price tags. The bottom line is a major factor in purchasing decisions, so how can purchasers justify or bring down the cost of environmentally preferable products?
SOLUTION: Aggregate purchasing.
Costco is successful for a reason; buying in bulk saves money. Purchasing collectives can do the same thing.
WSCA, the Western States Contracting Alliance, has a nationwide computer contract. Volume purchasing allows price breaks on computing equipment, and over the last three years, the Alliance has saved buyers over $2.1 billion. The State of Washington has worked to integrate some environmental concerns into these existing contracts, and plans to do additional work in this area.
GreenOrder is another example of a purchasing collective. It is a resource for institutional buyers (and suppliers) of energy efficient, recycled, and other environmentally preferable products. The group works to facilitate sales of green products in hundreds of categories from office supplies and computers to cleaners and construction materials, and by supporting volume purchasing, aims to reduce costs for buyers. Buyers pay a subscription for the service. More information is available from http://www.greenorder.com.
The Recycled Paper Coalition includes several hundred large paper purchasers from both the public and private sectors. The Coalition’s objective is to bring purchasing strength to the recycled paper market by stimulating demand for postconsumer content recycled paper products. It tallies paper usage statistics from its membership annually: in 2001 members collectively purchased 160,000 tons of green paper. Although the members don’t purchase paper as a group, over time its collective purchasing strength can help shift the supply and price of greener paper.
SOLUTION: Consider full cost accounting.
Sometimes the purchase price doesn’t tell the whole story. Look at the full cost, not just the initial purchase cost of a product.
When considering the purchase of new computer monitors recently, the City of Seattle opted to buy flat screen monitors, rather than the larger cathode ray tube monitors. Although the initial purchase price is higher, it’s still a better value when examining the costs associated with energy, desk space, longevity, user satisfaction and disposal. See box below for more information.
For a look at how the City of Portland performed a simplified life cycle method on sewer pipe options, and developed recommendations about environmentally preferred options, take a look at http://www.cleanrivers-pdx.org/pollution_prevention/archive/pipe.asp.
SOLUTION: Use innovative financing and rebates.
Many financial assistance options are available for purchase of environmentally preferable products, from rebates to leasing programs to innovative contracts.
In the Puget Sound area, businesses can take advantage of rebates on a range of water saving items, including washing machines, ice machines, toilets and urinals, commercial irrigation systems, and process water systems. Financial incentives of up to half the purchase price make this a “no brainer” for qualified purchasers. Read more about the Water Smart Technology Program at http://www.ci.seattle.wa.us/util/RESCONS/wst/default.htm.
In Portland, the city took advantage of a leasing program to swap out virtually all the city’s incandescent red and green traffic signals for energy efficient LED lamps. The technology cost, energy cost and available financing opportunities together allowed the city to realize nearly $400,000 annual savings, with no capital budget. See box entitled "Smart Financing" for more details.
Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) allow large facilities to fund energy efficiency improvements virtually risk-free with no upfront financing. Private sector companies pay for the equipment costs and installation, and receive a portion of the energy cost-savings for a specified period, often 10 years, after which the contract is complete. The world’s largest Coast Guard facility based on Kodiak Island, Alaska is saving $750,000 annually after improvements to boiler, heating and lighting systems, and installation of storm doors throughout the base. ESPCs are available to a wide array of private and public entities. Check these sources for more information: Oregon Energy Office (http://www.energy.state.or.us/school/perfcontract.htm), Washington General Administration (http://www.ga.wa.gov/eas/epc/ESPC.htm) Energy Services Coalition (http://www.escperform.org), and the Federal Energy Management Program (http://www.eren.doe.gov/femp/financing/espc.html).
SOLUTION: Establish creative and beneficial partnerships.
Working with another group may provide new funding opportunities. For example, the Seattle car sharing program Flexcar’s partnership with Metro King County made the company eligible to receive a $150,000 grant to add hybrid vehicles to Flexcar’s fleet.
SOLUTION: Consider price preferences.
Many governments specify price preferences for environmentally preferable products, and to overcome “lowest bid” requirements. The State of Alaska allows a price adjustment for recycled-content products, the State of Idaho for recycled paper and recycled motor oil products, and King County for recycled paper products and re-refined oil as well. These policies are just a drop in the bucket; many other agencies do this too.
Look at Life Cycle Costs
When considering the purchase of new computer monitors, the City of Seattle opted to buy flat screen monitors, rather than
the larger CRT monitors. Although the flat panels have a higher initial cost, when examining their full costs, the
accountants decided that the flat panel displays were a better purchase. They:
* use less than a third of the energy required for a traditional CRT monitor,
* take up less desk space,
* reduce user eyestrain, and
* can be returned for recycling at the end of their life.
Calculate the energy and space savings your organization could realize with flat panel monitors using this handy calculator:
Learn more about the topic at EPA’s Full Cost Accounting site at http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/fullcost/.